Museums

A place to learn about Ohio, America, and the World.

Some of Ohio’s Unique Museums

The great thing about museums is they can be expansive or super small. They can be hyper local or focused on the world. Museums range form huge collections of various artifacts to someones collection of one focus. Museums involve the dedicated and the casual viewers. Museums can attract locals, casual tourists, or serious dedicated fans. Ohio has great vast institutions that attract people from all over the world. Ohio also has museums that are unique and should be highlighted. Some of these museums might not be known by all, but are really great attractions.

Here is our list of some of them:

Bicycle Museum of America

Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum

Ohio River Museum

Our review (click here)

The Museum of Postal History

National Museum of the Great Lakes

Our review (click here)

Ohio Craft Museum

Feline Historical Museum

Our review (click here)

Merry-Go-Round Museum

American Toy Marble Museum

Airstream Factory Tour (not a really a museum)

Our review (click here)

The Cardboard Boat Museum

Blair Museum of Lithophanes

David Warther Carvings 

Our review (click here)

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

The American Sign Museum

Our review (click here)

 

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Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum

https://www.pyramidhill.org

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum is an 300 plus acre outdoor sculpture park in Hamilton. The park is open all year and can be experienced differently during each season. There are many special events during the year and at times the park can be busy. The holiday lights, for example, is a very popular event.

This park was started by Harry T. Wilks, a philanthropist who was big in the Hamilton community. He purchased the land to build his home. Over the years he added sculptures, hiking trails, roads, and small lakes. Soon he also started purchasing the land next to his property. Wilks was a big donor too local arts and education organizations. In 1997 he created a non profit to protect the park and the from private developers who might break up the land an spoil the beauty.

 

The park is open during the daylight hours and the museum is open in the afternoons. It does cost to visit the park. One can stop at the front gate or visitors center to pay for entrance.  Using the map provided one can travel by car the park seeing all the sculptures. This is the low activity way to see the park. The medium activity level way is to drive around and park at the many parking lots and then walk around. The higher activity level way is to park at one of the lots and walk the nature trails and road around the park. This park is accessible to just about anyone. The park also does rent Art Carts (golf carts) to tour the park. The length of time it takes to see the whole park depends on the mode of transportation and activity level. What is nice, is the park can be done in a long or short amount of time.

What one will see when touring the park is over 60 modern outdoor sculptures. These are very large sculptures. Some are colorful and some are made of natural materials. Each one is impressive. Even if modern art is not not to your liking, it is nice to see them and explore them from all angles. Each different side is like seeing an new piece of artwork.

The park also has an app, that one can download. This app gives a virtual tour and audio tour of the park.

The park houses an Ancient Sculpture Museum. The museum is open in the afternoons and included in the cost of admission. This museum house many ancient sculptures from Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Syrian and Egyptian cultures. If your a first timer to the park, a timing to stop at the museum is a must.

It must be mentioned, that the park can also be reserved for events and weddings. There are event venues through out the park. The gardens are so popular that most good weather weekends have an event going on. From Butler Philharmonic concerts to fishing derbies to food festivals there is something for everyone.

No matter your ability level, this park will have something to see. So spend an afternoon this year visiting this park, you will not be disappointed.

 

Mound Cold War Discovery Center

1075 Mound Rd,
Miamisburg, OH 45342

https://www.daytonhistory.org/visit/dayton-history-sites/mound-cold-war-discovery-center/

Dayton Ohio and the surrounding area has a long history with inventions, technology, and war. The National Museum of the United States Air Force tells the story of the war. Dayton History at Carillon park tells the story of the technology. Now Dayton History has helped to preserve the history of a major component of technology in war. The Mound Cold war Center tells the story of the part Dayton played in creating some of the most destructive weapons ever used.

On August 6, 1945 the United States, while at war with Japan, dropped the most destructive weapon ever used. The Atomic Bomb was again used on August 9th. These two bombs ended the war and changed the world forever. The bombs were so powerful that they were developed under the most secret project of the early 20th century. The Manhattan Project, while most known for being at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, had sites across the country. One such site was in Dayton, Ohio.

The Dayton Project was created to make the neutron initiator that would start the reaction process in the bomb. Many sites through out Dayton were used. The Dayton Project was the only portion of the larger Manhattan Project to be based in an urban area. At the end of the war the US Government decided to continue stockpiling weapons in case of future tensions. The weapons would need initiators, or triggers, and decided to keep making them in Dayton. Because this work was going to be done on a larger scale a suitable location outside of town was needed. A location was found near the ancient Adena culture’s burial mound in Miamisburg Ohio. The Atomic Energy Commission built its first site after the war and called it Mound Laboratories.

As tensions between the United States and the USSR grew into the Cold War, Mound Laboratories was in full swing. Later, as the stock pile grew large enough and the space race picked up the labs used the nuclear technology to invent a new type of battery. These batteries would be able to power a device for over 40 years. They were perfect for long duration space flight were battery replacement was not an option. Some of them have even left our solar system aboard the voyager spacecraft. The batteries are said to last until 2025.

Eventually the Mound Laboratories ended operations and the site was cleaned up. The buildings have either been taken down or turned into office space. A few of the building remained empty and workers from the labs decided to try and tell its story and preserve its history. The museum they created, while small, did a good job of telling the untold story. The times were not great and the presentation was a little haphazard. Eventually they joined forces with Dayton History to completely redesign the small museum. The New creation is the Mound Cold War Museum.

The Museum is a one large room with displays along the walls that tell the story of the mound. Using videos, pictures and artifacts the museum unfolds the work from the early days of the Dayton Project to the clean up and closure. Many of the displays are just text and pictures, or artifacts and text. Some however are larger interactive items, such as a working Geiger counter and a glove box. Upstairs is the archives with information on almost every worker at the mounds, and photos of the workers experience.

Overall the story gets across with out bogging down too much in the details. With the price of admission being free, it is well worth the price. Adding in a trip to the Miamisburg Mound across the street, and a stop downtown for lunch, one can easily fill a morning.

Krohn Conservatory

1501 Eden Park Drive
http://www.cincinnatiparks.com/krohn/

Down by the river in Cincinnati is a Eden Park. The land is beautiful and the hills rolling.  The park it self is quite large. So large it house two of Cincinnati’s hidden gems. The first is The Cincinnati Art Museum. The second is not quite as large or well known but is just as amazing. Krohn Conservatory.

In the 1880’s the first greenhouse at Eden park were used for growing plants for the park. at the turn of the 20th century a greenhouse was built for public displays. The following year the first plant show was started. Shortly after the park decided to keep the plants in the greenhouses in rotation to keep visitors coming back. About 30 years later the crowds had grown and the park needed a new green house. The Eden Park Greenhouse opened its doors in 1933. four years later it was renamed The Khron Conservatory in honor of Irwin M. Krohn.

A conservatory is a room with a glass roof and walls, attached to a house at one side and used as a greenhouse or a sun parlor. Krohn is more than just a glass room attached to a building. The conservatory is broken up into 4 main rooms with smaller rooms off to the sides. The rooms each encompass an environment for the plants inside. The desert room houses the Cacti and succulent collection.  The tropical room showcase plants from the warmer climates, including ferns and begonias. The palm house is the tallest with palm trees towering above.  This room also includes a waterfall the flows into a river full of fish, turtles, and frogs. Behind the waterfall is a hidden cave. Each of these rooms include edible plants too. The conservatory is a great place to see where some common, but exotic, food comes from including bananas, vanilla, and cacao.  Off too the sides of these rooms are the bonsai collection. With plants owned by the park and plants on loan from the Bonsai Society of Greater Cincinnati . The other room is a large selection from the conservatories collection of orchids.

The final room of the Krohn is the smallest but grandest. The seasonal flower show room is the where 6 different shows are put on through out the year. During the spring the Krohn Conservatory holds its most famous event, a butterfly show. The room comes alive with the flutter of wings. While the flowers may repeat from time to time, each of the six shows are themed differently. The room becomes whatever the theme is. If the idea is flowers of the bayou, the room is a slice of New Orleans. Visitors are transported not just by the flowers on display but by the music, the decorations, and even the structures and walkways. The theming is not only limited to the seasonal show room. Every time the shows theme changes the Krohn is almost born anew with little hidden gems popping up in the other rooms as well. The changing shows are what make every visit a treat to enjoy with new things to find and sites to see.

TIP: The Cincinnati Art museum is open late on Thursdays and can be fit into a day trip to Eden Park and the Krohn Conservatory.

 

Glendower Mansion

Glendower Mansion
105 Cincinnati Avenue,
Lebanon, Ohio 45036
www.wchsmuseum.org/planvisit/glendower_historic_mansion-1

Just down the street and around the corner from the Warren County History Center  is this old pre Civil War mansion.
The mansion is part of the museum during the summer and December. It is a beautiful old building over looking Lebanon, yet still hidden away enough to be hard to fully see.

The Mansion is small and has only 8 rooms. The building is bigger than its structure. The history of the Mansion connects life during the 19th century and the 20th and 21st centuries efforts to preserve it. The tour is very informative and expands the eight rooms to the include the history of the land and Lebanon. The guides are very informative and willing to answer any questions. Take at least and hour to tour the Mansion and grounds. The view from the top of the hill is one of the best in the area. The Mansion and History Center can easily be done in one day with time for lunch at one of Lebanon’s many eateries.

Through out the year the Glendower puts on a few festivals and around the end of the season holds a civil war encampment. They even try to time it to fall during the Smithsonian’s Free Museum Day so that every one can enjoy it. In December they decorate the Mansion for the season. Both are very popular events.

 

Warren County History Center

Warren County History Center Museum
105 S. Broadway, Lebanon, OH 45036
http://www.wchsmuseum.org/planvisit/warren_county_history_center-2

While not as big as the Cleveland History Center, Carillion Historical Park, or the former Cincinnati Museum of History, the Warren County History Center Museum is large enough to tell the story of a town that once was on track to be larger than Dayton, Ohio.

The museum is more of a collection of historical artifacts than a straight story of the region. This works out well. A straight story would be interesting to some people but not much more than a few founders names. The collection of artifacts works to envelope the visitor in the era. The artifacts are so well arranged that they blend together into a theme more than stand out on a pedestal. The overall feeling is walking through rooms and lives from the early settlers to the roaring 20’s.

The basement houses the older collections. The first room is filled with early inhabitants artifacts and rocks from before any human was in the area. From there one steps forward into the cabin of the Butterworths, early settlers to the area. The cabin is on par with any living history museum in the state. The artifacts so well arranged and taken care of that it felt as if the father of the house was about to come back at any moment for dinner. Outside of the cabin room is a large collection of equipment that the settlers and early farmers would have used to conquer the land and turn Warren county into the agricultural treasure it has become. Surrounding the farm equipment are window displays that house artifacts from the time period. They are themed to every aspect of life from the mundane grooming to the occupational, like journalism, finance, and funeral arts. The lower level also contains the transportation wing with a collection of a few vehicles used to move people around through out the history of warren County. On the way out of the basement is the dark and forbidding Underground railroad exhibit. The dark room only has the sounds of the night time creatures and the light of a distant house. Slowly the lights rise to reveal a display on the work done by Warren county residents to help slaves from the south escape to freedom. Included are maps of stops on the underground railroad and displays telling about how Warren County and Ohio dealt with the issues leading to the Civil War. This room is a must see.

The first floor is the one of the largest rooms and is the “Village Green.” This room is set up with display windows around the outside that resemble a town center. Each display recreates a shop that would be found, with real artifacts of the citizens of the time. This is where the theming and curation of the museum really takes off. Each display is surrounded by a facade and filled with artifacts that make it feel like looking into a shop window. The back room of the first floor is the temporary exhibit space with an ever changing collection of exhibits.

Upstairs is a balcony that surrounds the “Village Green” with two main rooms on each side. The main balcony feels like an overflow for not yet used items, but the 2 side rooms are some of the best of the Museum.The front room contains the 1920’s era “house.” The “house” is just a collection of rooms with items from the era. Included are mannequins with period clothing. While the rooms could feel like just a spattering of items, as with the rest of the museum they are so well themed that one is transported to the era and location of a 1920 warren county big wigs estate. The back room is the Shaker exhibit. The exhibit is one of the best exhibits on shaker life outside of a dedicated museum. Each artifact tells the story of Union Village that was just 4 miles outside of Lebanon. “There is great beauty in harmony” was a saying of the Shakers and the exhibit’s simple but well documented form helps to recreate this simple way of life.

 One of the greatest parts of the museum was hidden through out it like a treasure hunt. The “Gruesome but Truesome” exhibit are small placards in the windows that tell the more macabre details of the items inside. The information is well placed and parents with small children do not have to worry about items scaring them. Teens and the more adventurous will love to read about the larger story behind the museums collection.

Over all the Warren County Historic Center is a medium sized county museum with nothing extreme or major to set it apart from the larger city museums. As we say “A museum must tell a story, not just be a collection of artifacts.” The center shines with what it does with what it has. Every artifact is carefully placed, maybe not to tell a story, but to transport the visitor back in time to a different era.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post with the Glendower Historic Mansion.

Why is the NFL hall of fame in Canton?

The National Football League is the major professional Football organization in America. It honors its players with induction into its Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. With no team and the 130th in the nation for population size, the question is asked “Why is the NFL hall of fame in Canton?”

The first players to be payed to play football were  William Heffelfinger and Ben “Sport” Donnelly. They were payed by the Allegheny Athletic Association. By the 1920’s great players were payed ever increasing amounts. Some were even “poached” from other teams during the season with a higher salary offer. This led to confusion, bidding wars, and rising costs. Something was needed to be done.

On August 20, 1920,  in Canton, Ohio, representatives of the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, and Dayton Triangles, all Ohio based teams, formed the American Professional Football Conference. Later it would change its name to the American Professional Football Association, after adding more teams from across the nation. These teams worked out an agreement on player “poaching” and helped to stabilize costs and talent across the league. On October 3rd the Dayton Triangles defeated Columbus Panhandles in what is considered the first NFL game. On June 24, 1922, in a meeting held in Akron, Ohio, the APFA, became the National Football League.  For the next two years the Canton Bulldogs would win the league championship making them the first team in the NFL to do so.

Site of first NFL game, now a baseball diamond

Fast forward 40 years: The NFL had a long history and no Hall of Fame or other museum dedicated to it. Canton took this too heart. The local newspaper, the Canton Repository, pushed for it. They believed the only logical site was in Canton. It was the site of the original meeting. It had a historic powerhouse team. It was in Ohio the state where the first NFL game was played. The city was determined to get the Hall and on January 25, 1961 William E. Umstattd made a formal bid. A few months later the League agreed with what the city and awarded them the Hall. On September 7, 1963 the Hall opened and has been honoring players ever since.

Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site

Photo By Chris Light at English Wikipedia

219 N Paul Laurence Dunbar St,
Dayton, OH 45402

https://www.nps.gov/daav/planyourvisit/paul-laurence-dunbar-house-historic-site.htm

Some places in Ohio are run by local history groups. Some places in Ohio are important enough for the Ohio History Connection to get involved. A select number of places in Ohio have even gotten the National Parks service to recognize them. One place in Ohio is run by the local, state, and national historical systems, The Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was an African American poet at the turn of the 20th century. He wrote in both dialect and standard English. Dunbar became famous as a poet after self publishing Oak and Ivy, his first book, in 1892. After the popularity of the book he began to tour around the state, then then the nation, and finally England.  At the height of his career in 1902 Dunbar bought a house in Dayton for his mother. After he started to suffer medical issues he moved in to the house with his mother. On February 9, 1906 in the house he had bought for his mother Paul Laurence Dunbar died of tuberculosis.

The House was bought by the state in 1936 and turned into the first state memorial to an African American. It was later in the century that people started to notice his works effect on the larger literary world. Maya Angelou even named her first book after a line in Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.” In 1962 the house became a National Historic Landmark. 30 years later it was incorporated in to larger Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park when the park was created.

The Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site is a small location with just the house and accompanying visitor center. The center contains a short film on the life of Dunbar, a few of his artifacts, and information about the history of the house. The House itself is a small 2 story building common of the area. Together the entire site can be visited in 1.5 hours.

While that may seem to small for a journey to the area, the House is only .5 miles from the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park’s Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center. The center contains more information on the life of the printers of Dunbar’s first Newspaper, Orville and Wilbur Wright. One could easily spend an entire morning visiting both the Paul Laurence Dunbar House and Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, grab lunch at one of the areas great restaurants, and spend the heat of the afternoon walking around Woodland Cemetery where both the Wright Brothers and Paul Laurence Dunbar are buried. With the Carillon Historical Park, National Museum of United States Air Force, and the rest of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park one could make a long weekend in Dayton. Even being rewarded if they go to enough places.

Memorial Day Road Trips

On the final Monday in May America takes the time to honor those who died in service to its armed forces. This tradition started in 1868 when former Civil War soldiers decided to decorate the graves of fallen veterans. While the custom is a long held tradition around the world, this time was different. So many soldiers had died in the recent Civil War, and so many families effected, that having a single day to do this helped to bring larger importance to the act. It wasn’t until 1971 with the enactment of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that the day created a yearly 3 day weekend.

To honor the veterans who gave it all here are some road trip ideas that have a military background. Some can be completed in one day some might take two. A great site to learn more about Ohio historical places and come up with you own trips is http://touringohio.com

Northwest Ohio and the War of 1812:

Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis National Historic Site  – Fallen Timbers was the site of a major battle between American Indians and the newly formed United States of America. At the treaty of Paris in 1783 Britain gave the USA all of the land east of the Mississippi River. This include the Ohio Country. The American Indian tribes living in the area felt that they had no representation in the matter and that the land was still theirs. This led to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. At this battle American Soldiers fought the natives who were supplied by British from Fort Miamis. The defeat of the American Indians led to the Treaty of Greenville (see Garst Museum Below).

Fort Meigs – This fort with stood 2 attacks from the British and defended the Ohio country during the War of 1812. This is a full standing fort with a visitors center.

Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Library and Museum: The home and Museum of The former Civil War General and 19th President. For more information see our review.

Southwest and the Civil War

William Henry Harrison Tomb – The resting place of the 9th President and Ohio Indian Wars Veteran. He was the first president to die in office and is still the short serving person to have held the office. See our review here

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – This museum is dedicated not only to the Underground Railroad and the struggle of American Slaves, but the struggle of all people for equality, even in modern times. The museum is a powerful testament to the struggles that lead to the Civil War.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site: The birthplace and boyhood home of the 27th President. Governor of the Philippines following the Spanish American war, Secretary of War, and Commander in Chief gives this site some great military background.  See our review here

Land of Grant Grant Birthplace and Grant Boyhood home and School House – The 18th President and commander of the Union armies during the civil war. Visit where he was born, grew up and learned. See our review here.

West

Fort Jefferson – The site where St. Clair retreated after his defeat.

Garst Museum – Dedicated to the history of Darke county this museum tells the story of the Treaty of Greenville and the role it played in shaping Ohio. A nice large museum with lots of artifacts from the area. See our review here.

Fort Recovery – The site of the two largest and most important American Indian battles, The Defeat of St. Clair and the Battle of Fort Recovery. St. Clair had 900 of his 1200 men killed, about 1/4 of the US army. It is also the site of the fort that was built after the battle. It was this fort that allowed the US to win the next battle and led to the signing of the Treaty of Greenville.

Northeast

Fort Steuben – Built to protect the surveyors of the northwest Territory. The Fort has a visitor center, full wood fort and large grounds surrounding it.

Fort Laurens – Site of the only Revolutionary War battle in the state.

McCook house – Home of the “Fighting McCooks.” Major Daniel McCook and his 9 sons and 6 nephews fought before and mostly during the Civil War.

The McKinley Presidential Library & Museum – The Tomb of William McKinley, the 25th President, and commander and chief during the Spanish-American War. Next to the tomb is the Library and Museum which house exhibits on the natural world, Stark County, and the life of the president. See our review here. 

Bears Mill

6450 Arcanum Bears Mill Rd,
Greenville, OH 45331
https://www.bearsmill.org

Bears Mill in Darke County is one of the last water powered mills still in operation in Ohio today. The 4 story mill has become more of a museum than a full day to day mill. The mill still mills tho.

Bear Mill has a shop on the first floor with a wide variety of kitchen utensils, pottery, decor, and ever chaining selection of art. Of course the shop also offers a selection of grains milled on site. The shop is a nice place to get a gift, or even just to get something for oneself.

The difference between Bear Mill and other local shops is in the mill itself. The mill is still in operation and during certain times one can actually see the grinding going on. When the miller is away the museum still is informational. The four floors are full of informational placards and pictures of the older days. Along with the working equipment are artifacts and items to support the story of how a mill works. One of the unique things about Bear Mill is that it has both the old buhr stone along with newer roller mills. Most mills discarded the old stones when they got the new rollers. The fact that the mill has both is a testament to the history that is preserved at the site.

Along with the beautiful mill are the acres of land surrounding it. Take a hike along the powerful Greenville Creek and see the force that drives the wheels inside. Sit and enjoy the sounds of the water and nature at the gazebo near-by.  Bears Mill has something for everyone.